Mackenzie Taylor’s minutes may have been limited, but her effectiveness was not.
The Richmond junior, diagnosed with a torn ACL in June, had surgery in July to repair the damage.
She didn’t miss a game of her junior season — nor did she miss a beat when she was on the basketball court.
“She was pestering her doctor all the time,” said RHS coach Casey Pohlenz. “My vocabulary isn’t big enough to say those things about how good she is.”
Taylor is this year’s Palladium-Item Player of the Year in girls basketball. Chris Oliger, who guided Hagerstown to a Wayne County Tournament championship and a share of the Tri-Eastern Conference title, is Coach of the Year.
Even while recovering from her knee injury, Taylor remained one of the top players in the North Central Conference. She averaged 17.8 points per game — fourth highest in a loaded conference that also featured Miss Basketball Whitney Jennings of Logansport — and added 3.4 rebounds and 2.6 steals each contest.
Taylor was part of a talented Red Devil guard combo that also included freshman Destiny Perkins. Hagerstown’s Hayley Rogers had a stellar senior season as well, leading the Tigers on the way to earning TEC Player of the Year honors.
Oliger, in his 12th season at Hagerstown, has molded the Tigers into one of the top defensive — and consistent — programs in the TEC.
Others considered for the top coaching spot were Jerimy Stephan of Mid-Eastern Conference champion Randolph Southern, 2012-13 Coach of the Year Gary Peffly of Eaton and Lincoln’s John Lewellen.
“We lost four of our five starters,” Oliger said. “A lot of people didn’t know what we had. We had a really good summer. The younger girls really started to play. I was really pleased with what we did. It turned out to be a really fabulous season.”
Hagerstown finished 15-6. After dropping its opener to Knightstown, the Tigers rebounded to win eight of nine games.
They then claimed a third county crown in four seasons by dispatching Lincoln and Centerville in the annual tournament.
Lincoln won the rematch about a week later, but the Tigers had done enough to put themselves in position to finish strong and clinch a portion of the TEC championship, along with the Golden Eagles and Tri High.
“It was a huge accomplishment to win the county tourney and win the conference in the same year,” Oliger said.
Taylor started her year with coaches keeping a close watch on how much time she spent on the court.
Still, the Wright State commit found enough time to score 10 points in the season opener at Centerville, then poured in another 20 in Game No. 2, a 50-30 win over National Trail.
By the time late December rolled around, Taylor was getting close to her normal workload. She struck for 31 points on Dec. 23 in a win at Eaton.
Taylor went to her last doctor’s appointment the day before that game.
“I just felt right,” she said. “Everything felt right.”
It wasn’t long before Taylor joined exclusive company in the Red Devils’ program. She became the fifth Richmond girls basketball player to pass 1,000 points when she did so while playing in the Columbus North Invitational.
Currently, Taylor sits in fourth place all-time for the program with 1,220 career points.
“It’s definitely a great achievement to be up there on that list with all the great players,” Taylor said. “It’s obviously not possible without my coaches and teammates. They really helped me get there.
“Coming into the season, it wasn’t really on my mind. I knew I had to get out there and come back for my team.”
Taylor netted a season-high 37 points during the Columbus North tournament in a 64-61 victory over Chaminade-Julienne of Ohio.
Pohlenz praised Taylor for her “basketball smarts,” as she remained a consistent high-level player while she worked back from the injury.
“Not playing when she wasn’t 100 percent was difficult for her, because this is a kid that always goes 100 percent,” Pohlenz said. “I think it made her a better basketball player later on.
“It’s a blessing to get a chance to coach a kid like that. She’s such a great example for young people for what hard work will get you. She’s just so determined and so driven and so intelligent. Even if she wasn’t a good player, she’d will herself to be a good player. If she wanted to take up golf, she’d be top 10 in the state. She’s just one of those rare people.”
Added Taylor: “It was definitely difficult coming back from a serious injury like that. I had all the faith in the world in my doctors. I definitely had some of the best in the state. I knew if I could get that confidence back in myself, I would be fine.”